Thursday, April 25, 2013

Words That Shouldn't Exist (Part 1)

Sir Jonathan Erfe is a raging flaming amazon queen roman catholic linguist in possession of what is easily the sharpest mind I've communed with in an academic setting. He asked me to validate some of his research. In order to validate his research, I first had to be taught about linguistic aspect. He taught me. God it was a pain in the ass, but I learned something cool about linguistics, and something equally cool about the enslavement of humankind.

If I don't have a picture in a blog post, the preview doesn't look as cool on your feedly page. So here, have Lupe Mendoza's Uncanny Familiarities.

Verbs belong to aspectual categories. Aspect isn't explicitly marked in English, so you have to use tests to figure out which category a verb belongs to. For example, stative verbs are involuntary, non-activity things. One of the tests you can use to figure out if a verb is stative is whether or not it makes sense to command someone to do it.

“Hey man, start running! Now!” makes sense.

“Hey dude, want spaghetti! Now!” sounds weird.

(There are other tests to figure out other categories. If you stop in the middle of singing, have you sung? If you stop in the middle of buying a car, have you bought a car? These are kind of fun until your head hurts after doing it for eight hours and you start hallucinating and thinking that loving is an accomplishment and swimming is a state of being.)

So Sir Erfe's got this hypothesis that Filipino learners of English initially apply the progressive marker “-ing” to certain aspectual categories and not others. It's actually freaky weird subconscious stuff that makes you look at the sky and scream “WHY!?!?”, and that's my favorite kind of research.

So we're going through lists and marking verbs for aspect, and we sort of trip over a word: believe.

W-w-wait. Wait. No. I've got it. It's like “think”, man. Not like “I'm thinking”, but like “I think so.” I believe so. Creer, croir, credo, whatever. Slam dunk. Right? Come on.

The creeds.

I think that there's one God, the Father, the Almighty . . .
I think that there's one Son . . .

Oh my God. (Wait lang.) There's something fishy happening here.

Motherfuckers did it again.

I've added “believe” to my List of Words that Shouldn't Exist.

Hopi Indians can't tell yellow from orange. Give them a stack of five colored cards and tell them to memorize the sequence, and they won't put yellow and orange in the right places any better than chance would have it. It's because they don't have separate words for yellow and orange. Words structure our brains and constrain our array of possible thoughts. (This is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and it's mainstream, and the reason for the drive behind salvage ethnography and language revitalization: there might be ways of thinking out there that are closed off to us, and letting languages die off could mean throwing away the meaning of life and the cure for cancer.)

Marshall Rosenberg says that when civilization was invented and we all got enslaved, our languages actually got messed up to make us better slaves. I buy it. (And you, my friend, should buy Nonviolent Communication.)

So, dumb kid that I am, I'm keeping a list.

Words that Shouldn't Exist. 

  1. Should. - (Do please read on before you send me emails about moral decline and impending holocausts.) I like should, in some contexts. "If you really want to make money, buddy, you should get into computational statistics." See now? I like that just fine. That's wonderful. Should tells us that Thing A is required for Thing B. That's a pretty damned useful word. Sometimes we don't even have to say Thing B, because it's implied. "Dude, you should ask for her number!" . . . because I bet she'll give it to you . . . and then you'll go on a date, and you'll both be happy and life will be fun. Cool.

    But sometimes the objective isn't implied. This is the ancient mind control twist on should. Children should be seen and not heard, etc, whatever. Putting some amorphous oughtness in the air that puts demands on people is a great way to make slaves out of your wife and children and adherents to your new religious cult. It would sound like babbling crazy talk to someone whose language hadn't already been doctored. "Children should be seen and not heard because I'm embarrassed of them in front of my friends." Now that's a healthy sentence. Oh, but now it's also my fault. And it also kind of sounds mean. Killing the word should will do that. A lot of time it gets replaced with "I want." Accountability can be uncomfortable. You should try it. It can make all your relationships blissful, if you've got the balls for it. (Again, seriously, buy NVC.)

    Wait, am I saying should shouldn't exist? Yeah. Good point. What I mean is that I think if you kill this word you'll be happier.
  2. Ought/need to/must - See Should.
  3. Believe. Where the Spanish say "believe" (creo), we say "think." (It gets sloppy because we have two thinks, one for pondering and one for believing and opining. 'I think the meeting is on Tuesday." It's stative. It's involuntary. You don't say "Think that I'm pretty! Now!" It would be convenient if you could. That's why they invented believe.

    To an un-tortured brain thinking in an un-doctored language, putting a moral should on what someone thinks is true is nonsensical and comical. People can't change what they think is true. They can with new evidence or pondering, but they can't (without serious trauma) just voluntary decide that there are three lights on the wall and not four. Civilization (being that near-simultaneous onset of church, state, school and factory) did change the way we think (yes, though some serious trauma). It  also came up with a word for the new way we were supposed to "think": believe.

    Believe is an "I think so" that you're supposed to be able to control at will. To believe some things is wrong, and believing others is right. It's the criterion for salvation in some creeds. Hellfire awaits for those who don't have the right think so.

    (*Note, the romance languages didn't dodge the bullet: they have a casual credo and a doctored credo in just like we do.)
  4. Phone. - Wuhahaha. Yeah, words blind us to the technological singularity and supremely fuck up our monetary inflation metrics. But that's for another post.



  1. Interesting point about should and believe. I will read that book someday. However:

    Did school really come about at the same time as religion? Distinguilated Science Man says, "Doubtful." More at 10.